Norway

Ever since I left Greece in 2010, I made it my mission to visit “cooler” countries. It is tempting to go back to Greece and enjoy the warmth, to visit friends and live the life I was used to for 14 years, if only for a while… But earlier this year while visiting Scotland I fell in love with the unspoilt and breath-taking beauty of green landscapes, waterfalls, mountains, lochs and I want more of this!

One of my best friends is half Norwegian and I have heard her stories about Norway’s varied landscape of steep fjords, high mountain peaks and rugged wilderness. More and more (the older I get, how cliché) I am drawn to nature, so visiting Norway would just be a dream come true. Buro ScanBrit, the same tour operator that took me to Scotland for a study trip in May now has a study trip to the land of trolls. And lucky me, again I have the privilege to join them on a new adventure.

Day 1: from the Netherlands to Kiel

At the end of August we leave the Netherlands early in the morning by bus to go to Kiel in Germany. We travel by luxury coach, Berend is the driver who takes us via Bremen and Hamburg to Kiel. No traffic jams on the road and we arrive in Kiel at the end of the afternoon. We board the Stena Germanica. The ship departs early in the evening and we will arrive in Gothenburg, Sweden the following morning.

The ship is completely renovated in 2010 and has beautiful cabins and all the facilities a person can possibly need. We spend the night in cabins 2 and have dinner and breakfast on board and I can tell you the food is pretty good. I love to travel by ferry, there is something adventurous about it (well, to me there is anyway). I get excited when leaving a port behind me, ready to discover new places… As long as it is light outside I try to stay on deck to see the surroundings and early in the morning I see how the ship enters Gothenburg, Sweden. We pass bridges, colourful wooden houses, shipyards and more before we go back on land.

Day 2: from Gothenburg to Oslo

Once we leave the ferry we are right in the middle of unspoilt Swedish nature. We drive along the coast from Sweden to Oslo and have a lunch stop at Tanum Strand, not far from the border with Norway. This original fishing village is a pleasant seaside resort. The park where we have lunch has various holiday homes scattered along the coast. They look cosy and inviting to stay (can I for a while?). In the harbour there are plenty of sailing boats and I love it here! Well… as long as I am at the coast, I am happy!

In the afternoon we arrive in Oslo, the capital of Norway. Here we meet Belgian guide Hilde, who joins us on the bus for a city tour. She tells us about life in Oslo and Norway in general. Living here does not sound bad at all. It is interesting: within Europe we have so many different countries and life is different in each and every one.

In Oslo you do not find many wooden homes, but mostly concrete and brick. The city is different from the rest of the country and you need a few history lessons to understand why. But this city is pretty special and there is amazing architecture to be found everywhere.

Our first stop is at the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, which was built in 2010 and is already too short for long jumpers! The Holmenkollen is about 20 to 30 minutes away from city centre and a gateway to Nordmarka, one of the most popular recreational areas in the city. Tryvann and Frognerseteren are great starting points for hikes and trips summer and winter alike. From here we enjoy the amazing view over Oslo and the nearby islands; just the view is worth coming here.

The next stop is at Vigeland Park, which is filled with beautiful statues made by the sculptor Gustav Vigeland. It is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist and one of Norway’s most popular tourist attractions. I can understand why, it is really a must see, whether you are into arts or not. The park is lovely and spacious and the statues are so beautiful. I especially love the fountain, one of the highlights and I think I stood still for at least 5 minutes to watch it. I think it is very powerful.

Berend takes us to the Opera House. Hilde tells us that this building has cost a small fortune (half a billion euro’s) and it was opened 3,5 years ago! It is a beautiful building that looks like an iceberg sticking out of the water. It is a landmark for Oslo and home to the Norwegian Opera and Ballet. You can take a walk over the roof , which we did and that is pretty special.

From the Opera House we walk to the Aker Brygge entertainment area at the harbour, it is full of bars and restaurants. We have dinner at restaurant Louise, which is decorated in a maritime style (my kind of style) and where the food is incredibly tasty. We have such a nice group of travel agents, everybody is getting along real well and we are just having the best of times. After dinner it is a 15 minutes walk to Thon Hotel Slottsparken, where we check in and have a good night sleep. We only had a sneak peak today and I wish I had more time in Oslo to explore, but who knows I may come back someday!

Day 3 of 9: from Oslo to Hemsedal

From Oslo we drive through the Valley of the Hallingsdalselva (you seriously have to practice to pronounce those Norwegian names). After about 40 minutes on the bus we see Utøya, the little island where a terrible tragedy took place about a month ago. The images from the news are still very fresh in our memories and it is just a horrible story. We cannot help but think about the people, mostly teenagers, who lost their lives here and we think about the people whose lives will never be the same again. What a sad part of history this will be. On the side of the road it is still full of flowers and we feel sad. But this trip was planned before this traggic event took place and the best we can do is just keep visiting this beautiful country. Utøya looks beautiful and peaceful from a distance. I am not sure if it is a coincendence, but there is a rainbow above Utøya the moment we drive by.

We visit the town of Flå, where the Vassfaret Bjørnepark (Bjørneparken) is located. Various animals live in this park and we see bears, moose and wolves. It is a great park for families, the animals have plenty of space and are well looked after. While watching the bears, I wonder who is watching who; they are very curious. The moose are amazing animals who seem very relaxed here and we even get a glimpse of the wolves. Before we move on we enjoy a lovely Norwegian soup in the restaurant and drive to Hemsedal.

Hemsedal is a winter sports resort and one of the most popular ski resorts in Norway. However, people love to visit the area just as much during the summer! The nature here is so beautiful and nature lovers, hikers and cyclists can enjoy themselves here to the fullest. We visit different accommodations, it is good to know what we can offer to our clients and we are impressed by the variety of hotels, apartments and log cabins.

We drive to Rjukan Waterfall (Rjukandefossen), an impressive and powerful waterfall and I find myself in the middle of a real life Bob Ross painting. Well, I am not sure if anyone can capture the beauty of this magical place. The scenery is truly stunning, it has rained a lot lately and the water is flowing like mad! For the daredevils there is a suspension bridge going to the other side of the swirling river, from where you can have a better view at the waterfall. I cross the bridge, I just have to. I have done so many scary things in my life, this I can handle. I am not fond of heights however, but I do decide to look down and take a photograph!

We walk back to our overnight hotel Skogstad. The walk is quite an adventure because we need to cross a small river and the bridge has disappeared. Michel, who represents the tour operator, becomes our hero! He takes a long jump over the small river to grab a tree trunk and makes it function as a bridge. That was enough excitement for today. Once we arrive at the hotel it is time for dinner and a glass of wine. We do not care that the wine is expensive here; it goes really well with the fresh and tasty fish we get served for dinner!

Day 4: from Hemsedal to Voss

We leave Hemsedal and drive to Gol and from Gol we get on board on the train to Myrdal. The route goes through a mountainous area with tunnels, rivers, waterfalls and lakes. I may like travelling by train even more than taking a ferry boat ride. In Gol we board on the world famous Flåmsbana. This train route is only 20 km long, but has a height difference of 865 metres! The train ride takes about an hour from Myrdal to Flåm and we enjoy the most beautiful views, waterfalls and pass through 20 tunnels, 4 water tunnels and a bridge at an average speed of 35 kilometre per hour.

In the middle of the route we stop by Kjosfossen waterfall and disembark on the viewing platform, We have a short break and a mysterious woman with long blond hair and a red dress emerges from the forest and dances to a Norwegian folk song. I am being told that she is Huldra, an elusive forest spirit from Norse mythology. According to local folklore, she lures men into the woods to seduce them. Hmmm… when I have a look at my photographs later on, I doubt it whether this person is a woman, but for sure it made us laugh. The waterfall does not need this performance, she is beautiful on her own! But that is just my opinion…

The final station is Flåm, a town located on the Aurlandsfjord and a landing place for many cruise ships and the Hurtigruten ships. There is a cruise ship in the harbour when we arrive and it is buzzing with tourists. We do not stay in Flåm, but take a short cruise across the Aurlandsfjord and Nærøfjord to Gudvangen. Berend will be waiting for us at Gudvangen. The fjords are spectacular and there is something mysterious about them. Today they look very serene and calm; we are truly blessed with beautiful weather during this trip. My friend Edith (who is my roommate as well) and I stay on deck as much as possible to enjoy the beautiful views and to take photographs. I met Edith during the trip to Scotland earlier this year and we both love photography and are usually the ones who wonder off. The water in the fjords must be deep, it is very dark and you cannot see through.

Once we arrive in Aurlandsfjord we drive to our accommodation in Voss: Voss Resort. We stay in a lovely apartment made from dark wood and the roof tops are covered with moss. The outdoors had made us hungry and we go out for dinner before we call it a night. I think we ate at Elvatun, but I did not write down the name of the restaurant. It was a day full of impressions and all I remember is that I slept like a log that night.

Day 5: from Voss to Bergen

Today it is time for a spectacular outdoor activity! After a good breakfast we leave for the Voss Rafting Senter. Everyone is excited about the adventure that awaits us. Once we arrive at Voss Active, we receive detailed instructions and a suitable outfit for our wet adventure. The test for rafting consists of a jump into the cold (read: icecold) water and a swim through the current to the other side of the river. Brrr… well, that woke us up! There is no way back now! We have a total of 5 boats and every boat has a companion to guide us safely over the Raundalselva River. I can tell you this: it is an amazing experience.

Our boat is going in all directions except the right one. We even manage to get stuck on a rock and we have to take a deep dive, while the other boats watch us with horror or excitement. I am pretty sure that our guide is thinking about quitting his job now; horrified by the thought he would have another group like ours to accompany. We stop before we reach a really wild rapid, for the simple fact that we cannot go through it. There is so much water in the river and it runs like mad. The boats go down alone and we walk along the waterfront to a rock. After a jump of about 6 metres in the deep water, we collect our boats and go further. After surviving all the rapids backwards, the rafting adventure is over. I think our guide needs a week to recover.

The centre offers us a delicious hot meal afterwards, the sun is shining and our day is just perfect! Edith and I cannot stop laughing thinking back about how we went down the river. If you do not want to go down the river this way, you can go kayaking in more quiet waters or take a mountain bike ride. I would get back in the boat just like that: although we got soken wet because we sat the front, we enjoyed ourselves so much.

From Voss we go to Bergen, which is the second city of Norway. We are joined by guide Liesbeth who partly takes us by bus and partly by foot through this wonderful city. Bergen is surrounded by 7 mountains; the city is inviting, cozy, colourful and it has the charm of a small town.

We go for a walking tour through the streets, pass by the fish market and have some time to ourselves to walk around in Bryggen (The Hanseatic Wharf). Bryggen is one of Bergen’s (and Norway’s) main attractions. It was built after the great fire in 1702 and is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Walking through this area is like taking a trip back to the Middle Ages. The narrow alleys and centuries-old buildings just have an unique atmosphere.

At the beginning of the evening we gather at the Fløibanen, which is a funicular railway. A cable car on rails brings us to Mount Fløyen (also called Fløyfjellet) from where we have a great view over the city of Bergen. We dine at this magical location and watch the Hurtigruten leave the port into a spectacular sunset. Once we are back down from the mountain we small group including Edith and myself go for a drink at Scruffy Murphys. We sit outside, watch people and traffic passing by and have a good time. We spend the night in Thon Hotel Bergen, only a short walk from city centre. I love Bergen, it is such a picturesque place and the atmosphere is friendly.

Day 6: from Bergen to Geilo

The morning we have another outdoor activity. We take the cable car to Mount Ulriken, where we make a GPS Hike. We do not walk too far, so we cannot really get lost and that is a good thing since we are not used to doing GPS hikes. After a nice hike we enjoy a delicious lunch at Sky:Skraperen Restaurant. The views are stunning.

We have a long drive to Geilo ahead of us. It is the most beautiful route we have driven so far. For about 55 km we drive alongside the famous Hardangerfjord and the views are stunning. We even spot porpoises making their way through the fjords. After the Hardangerfjord, The Hardangervidda is just as spectacular! We regularly stop for photographs and occasionally take a ferry boat ride to be able to travel further.

The sun shines bright and it makes the scenery just look stunning! And since it is the beginning of September, it is not so busy anymore with tourists. When arriving in Geilo, dinner is served in our attractive overnight hotel Havsdalsgrenda holiday homes.

Day 7: from Geilo to Oslo

Geilo is located at the head of the Hallingdal and is a busy winter sports resort. In the summer months it is quieter, but popular with hikers, anglers, rafters and mountain bikers. We remain active and go to the Geilo activity centre for a “High Rope Course”. It is a fun activity for young and old. You have to “overcome” obstacles at a (literally) high level. Everyone swings from tree to tree like Tarzan or Jane and it brings us in the most hilarious situations. Michel takes photographs of us climbing and doing the canopy. This is where you want to go down gracefully, face forward, but somehow it is my bottom that goes first, which is a very unattractive sight. So no… I am not posting any photographs of this 😉

We visit the ski resort, although it is closed. Especially for us they activate the gondola that takes us to the top of Geilo. Berend has brought hot drinks and cake with him and we just enjoy the great view over Geilo. We freshen up, explore Geilo centre, have a quick lunch and we return to Oslo. Time goes by too fast, that is for sure. But that is always the case when you are having a good time…

On our way back to Oslo we have a short stop at the medieval Gordarike Family Park where we get the opportunity to view the beautiful Gol Stavkirke. Gol Stave Church is a true copy of the Gol Stave Church built in the 1200s. It is very impressive and an important part of Norway’s history!

Once we arrive in Oslo, we take the Stena Saga early in the evening to make the crossing to the Danish town of Frederikshavn. On board we enjoy a delicious dinner buffet. This crossing is slightly busier than our way up here. That might have something to do with the fact that alcohol on board is so much cheaper than in Norway.

Day 8: from Frederikshavn to Ribe, Denmark

In the morning we disembark in Frederikshavn, Denmark. From the port we drive to Billund for a visit to Legoland. No family will go to Denmark without visiting this world-famous amusement park. The park has been named Denmark’s best amusement park several times and we have the whole afternoon to feel like a child again. I am not a big Lego fan, but you have to admire how everything is built and it is a very friendly family park and I can imagine that children enjoy themselves here. I am happy to have been here though; I know exactly which families would love to go here.

On the evening program is a dinner and tour through the oldest town in Denmark: Ribe. Ribe is one of the few towns which still has a beautifully preserved medieval town centre with old half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets and a cathedral as the crucial centre point. When walking through this lovely town, it is like we stepped into a time machine and went back in time. We have a lovely dinner at Dagmar Hotel and chat away for as long as we can. We spend the night in holiday homes at Ribe Byferie Resort. It is our last night before we go back home.

Day 9: from Ribe back to The Netherlands

This study trip has come to an end unfortunately. We enjoyed this wonderful trip so much and are impressed by everything we have seen and done. Norway is a must see, a country so beautiful, so pure… It is easy to reach by ferry boat, by plane (there are airports in most big towns). There is an awful lot to see, to admire, to enjoy, to do and the people are incredibly friendly. It may not be a cheap holiday destinatoin (none of the Scandinavian countries are), but Norway is worth it! We have only seen a small part of this amazing country and I sincerely hope to go back someday!

Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller

September 4, 2011

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